As a new tattoo artist, you want to make sure you buy ink that goes into the skin easy and ages well. Using those high-quality inks combined with proper technique will allow you create impressive, colorful tattoos. Which is why we made this guide so you know what inks you should be using, what ones to avoid and how to tell the difference between the two.
In this article, we’re breaking down:
Where to Buy Tattoo Ink: Our Top Picks
Using professional equipment is important to keeping your clients safe. Here’s the tattoo inks* our professional artists like to use:
*Prices listed at time of publishing
Making Your Own Tattoo Ink
Some tattoo artists choose to make their own tattoo ink. However, this is a complicated process and there are a lot of opportunities for the ink to get contaminated if you don’t have a completely sterile work space and materials.
Pre-made inks are generally well made and are constantly becoming safer. In most cases, you’ll save yourself time and your client from potentially bad reactions or complications by purchasing from a reputable brand.
Can Tattoo Inks “go bad”?
Most inks will be good for about two years after opening them. You’ll always want to toss bottles past their expiration dates or if one of the following is true:
Common Tattoo Ink Issues: Fading, Falling Out, and Spreading
If a tattoo doesn’t turn out as you thought it would, there could be a few different causes:
The Ink is Low-Quality
Low quality ink might not be heavily pigmented enough to remain bright.
If a tattoo artist doesn’t explain how to care for a tattoo to the client, they might not give it enough time to heal, which could lead to ink “falling out.”
Time’s Effect on Tattoos
After several years, tattoos will look a little faded compared to when they’re fresh. Additionally, lines thicken and spread over time, which is why some older tattoos look “fuzzy.”
The Tattoo’s Application
If you don’t use the right needle depth, you won’t be able to put ink into the skin correctly..
What’s in Tattoo Ink...And is it Safe?
There’s always some risk that clients will react badly to tattoo ink, and those reactions can range from uncomfortable to dangerous. However, knowing which ingredients are safer for skin will help you make better choices while you’re shopping.
People use the words “ink” and “pigment” interchangeably, but there is a difference. Pigment is only the color, and it’s usually a powder. That powder gets mixed with a “carrier fluid,” which gives it the liquid consistency and “carries” the ink into the skin.
What ingredients are actually in the ink will depend on both the color, as well as the manufacturer.
Safe carrier fluids: denatured alcohol, ethanol, glycerin, Listerine, methanol, propylene glycol, purified water, rubbing alcohol, witch hazel.
Unsafe carrier fluids: formaldehyde, antifreeze, glutaraldehyde.
Pigment ingredients by color*:
*bolded words indicate heavy metals
Azo chemicals and metal oxides (ferrocyanide and ferricyanide) are also found in many tattoo ink colors.
It’s hard to avoid chemicals that are (to some extent) considered toxic or cancer-causing. But some of the most problematic are arsenic, lead, cadmium, naphthol, cinnabar, chromium oxide, and cobalt. You’ll find more of these harmful ingredients in knock-off inks, which is why we always recommend buying from a reputable supplier.
“Homemade” ink made from ground pencil graphite and shampoo and other unverified “ink recipes” are dangerous. For the most part, these hazards will be fairly obvious.
News: Some countries are banning ink for potentially harmful substances. To learn more check out our article about the UK Tattoo Ink Ban.
Tattoo ink suppliers are currently not required by the FDA to put an ingredients list on their label or website. However, the brands that are transparent about what ingredients they use tend to sell higher-quality inks.
Because potentially harmful ingredients could be in tattoo ink, it’s up to each individual artist to find ink that they - and their clients - can trust. The best way to stay safe is to buy professional tattoo ink directly from a reputable supplier - not off of Amazon. A lot of the inks on Amazon are cheap knock-offs, and the ink in most tattoo kits are not safe for human skin (even if they say they are).
Health Concerns with Tattoo Inks
Because tattoo inks are not regulated by the FDA, there hasn’t been much lab testing on them or their long-term effects. However, there are some major health concerns that come along with tattoo ink:
Ink in the Bloodstream
Because ink is an “invader” in the skin, the body tries to break down ink particles and get rid of them. Ink particles are too big for the body to break down all the way, but this process can cause some ink to get into the bloodstream and get carried to the lymph nodes (which are part of the immune system).
Ink - and its toxins - can “sit” in that space, but there’s currently no evidence that it leads to illness.
Vitamin D Deficiency
There’s a chance that large tattoos (like blackout tattoos) can keep the body from absorbing enough Vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D plays a large role in your immune system’s health.
On top of some tattoo ink ingredients being considered carcinogens, large tattoos can make it harder for healthcare professionals to spot skin cancer.
This is why it’s important to check with a doctor before tattooing over scars, moles, and other skin irregularities.
Vegan tattoo inks do not have any health benefits over normal tattoo ink. The main difference is that it’s made with vegetable-based glycerin instead of glycerin from animal by-products.
Our Tips for Cover Ups, Mixing Colors, Considering Skin Tone, and More
Foundation Flesh Ink
Blue and Purple Ink
Some yellow and orange ink have the same ingredients (like iron oxide) that cause this type of reaction.
Skin Tone Affects How Ink Shows Up
Creating Custom Colors
Which Colors are the Hardest to Laser Off?
Dark colors like black, grey, brown, blue, and dark green are the easiest to remove because darker colors absorb more of the laser’s light (and therefore are more affected). Yellow, orange, and pale blue tend to be the toughest, and white ink is impossible to remove (it actually gets darker).